South Africa's drop in daily new COVID-19 cases suggest its Omicron peak may have passed, experts say

South Africa's drop in daily new COVID-19 cases suggest its Omicron peak may have passed, experts say
A Doctors Without Borders nurse performs a COVID-19 test in Johannesburg, South Africa.Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images
  • South Africa's COVID-19 cases have been steadily declining in the past week.
  • Some experts said this suggests the peak of the country's Omicron wave may have been reached.

COVID-19 cases in South Africa have been steadily declining in recent days, prompting some experts to say the country's peak of the Omicron variant may have passed.

South Africa reported 37,875 cases on December 13 alone, the highest number of cases seen in the country since the start of the pandemic, according to World Health Organization data.

The numbers of daily recorded cases gradually declined in the days since, with the WHO reporting a 5% decrease in daily new cases from December 14 to December 21.

South Africa's drop in daily new COVID-19 cases suggest its Omicron peak may have passed, experts say
Graph annotated by Insider showing the drop in cases from mid-December 2021, when Omicron was the dominant variant.Our World in Data/Insider

Over 90% of all new coronavirus cases in South Africa are of the Omicron variant, Discovery Health, the country's largest private health insurer, estimated in a press release published last week.

Marta Nunes, senior researcher at the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics department of the University of Witwatersrand, told the Associated Press she believes this "sustained drop" in cases "indicates that we are past the peak."


Fareed Abdullah, a doctor at the COVID-19 ward at Pretoria's Steve Biko Academic Hospital, also told the AP: "The rapid rise of new cases has been followed by a rapid fall and it appears we're seeing the beginning of the decline of this wave."

'Way too early' to definitively say the peak is over

It's important to note that case numbers are not a wholly reliable indication of the trajectory of a virus, with potential delays in testing and fluctuations in numbers being two common factors that could impact the data.

Professor Veronica Uekermann, head of the COVID-19 response team at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, told ABC News the country was indeed seeing the massive spike in cases "settle," but that it was too early to suggest the peak has been definitively passed.

"It is way too early to suggest that we have passed the peak. There are too many external factors, including the movement during the holiday season and the general behaviour during this period," she said.

Low rates of hospitalization

Despite the heavy caseload in South Africa, hospitalization rates have remained low, suggesting a decoupling between Omicron infection and severe disease.


Early data from the South African health ministry released last week found that only 1.7% of cases in the latest wave have resulted in hospitalizations so far, compared with 18% at the same point during the previous wave, which was dominated by the Delta variant.

What remains unclear, however, is whether Omicron causes less severe disease than other variants, or whether the change in hospitalization rates is due to a higher level of population immunity.